I didn’t quite know the meaning of binge-watching until I watched ten episodes of House M.D. in one day. It wasn’t the first time I had watched stuff on a screen all day long, or marathoned something. But, 40 minute episodes in ten instalments with food and other breaks throughout the day meant that I had done nothing else, but helped Dr. House solve medical cases. It felt like a new experience, and despite the headache at the end of the day, I had to compel myself to switch off and go to bed before hitting ‘Next’. But, that’s just because House M.D. is a good show, right? Surely a test of how good it is, is me wanting to go through 8 seasons of it as quickly as possible. Now, why should something that feels so good be so bad?
Enter the literal, stark meaning of binge-watching. It is nothing new, but it is one of the foremost pastimes and passions of the 21st century, getting only bigger and better. An interesting study conducted on a group of 18-29 year olds found that binge-watching was related to loneliness and depression. Others, mainly those who create content to binge-watch have related it to reading a novel. Which I find similarly interesting, because there was a time when novel-reading was also a serialized experience, to be relished weekly or monthly. Such serializations are still there, but it is hardly the same as picking up a book, and expecting the whole possible thing in your hand. However, as the astonishing popularity of series in fiction, mainly in trilogies, has also proved , there is a place for both forms of appetites to exist: one, to get it in bits and pieces and the other, to have the whole cake in front of you.
Call it escapism or a “collateral experience” to life and its realities, we’ve always sought stories. We need them. Yes, things are culturally different. You don’t have families fighting over the remote anymore, or sitting together and watching the game with bated breath. They can go about their lives, not missing a moment of the game while they watch it on their phones on a train. Children of the 90s and early 2000s will remember having quotas for TV and playing video games set by their parents (or feeling guilty doing either even if the parents aren’t taking notice) while kids today can multi-task, Whatsapping homework with friends while watching their favourite Youtubers at the same time. Perhaps, the main difference is, the guilty pleasure aspect of it has gone. Completely. I still feel guilty if I have watched too many “What’s in my bag?” videos on Youtube, but it is cultural sacrilege to admit that you don’t participate in something as important as watching Game of Thrones.
It is just the deep irony of the Social Media age: the requisite isolation in our amplified connectedness. Every tweet sent out, every post on a message board is an isolated act, albeit in the pool of a super-conglomeration of like-minded people. You pick the same fights, nod the same emojis in agreement, that you would have, had it been a family or a group of friends discussing the film, TV show or match during or after the airing, or before the next instalment. But, it is not entirely the same. An idea discussed in one my favourite books/films High Fidelity is that of what really matters in a person – is it what they like? Or, what they are like? The thing is, I might talk endlessly about what I like, and you may agree or disagree with it here on WordPress. But, there is a very slim chance of knowing what I am like and what you are like if we cannot hold this discussion in person. And getting to know what a person is like, and letting them know what you are like is an honest, open, vulnerable place to be in. And that, I am afraid, is the only solution to loneliness.
But, that’s a given. We all know that. What we don’t know is why we choose to do things that feed our loneliness. Sure, you’re binge-watching with other people. Sure, you’re talking about it, as well as other real things, at lunch with them. How can it be a bad thing then? People have always discussed what they like, what they choose to spend their time doing. After all, knitting groups still exist on pinterest. People even talk about them as they do them. Television, cinema, even something relatively high-brow as literature bring people together. Like it or not, facebook has made it possible for people in their 70s to get in touch with friends after 40 years, and share their lives through pictures and videos. And Game of Thrones would have been popular even fifty years ago. Surely, the issue is not entirely with the content itself.
It isn’t. It is how we handle it. Not many would like to admit it, but we binge-watch, or binge-eat or binge-anything because we need it to cope with reality. My head has always been full of stories, whether I came up with them or not, mainly because life just looks so much better in the realm of the imagination. Not everything can be classified as a narcotic, after all. Cultures don’t necessarily evolve, they change. Human nature, its wants and needs, stay the same. I could use the time spent on watching Youtube to exercise, catch up with people or write. But, it’s just easier. All bingeing, i.e. addictions, begin that way. The alternative is more difficult, even anxiety-inducing. Loneliness is only symptomatic. It is what we would be doing instead of marathoning Jessica Jones that explains it.
Do you binge-watch? Is it a harmless pastime, or does it affect your life?
Follow me on Twitter @AmritaSarkar6